Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa; East End

John Ruskin (1819-1900). Pencil, ink and watercolour on paper, 1845.

This watercolour was 'drawn' from a daguerreotype that Ruskin had taken on the spot.

Ruskin on Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa

Ruskin considered Santa Maria della Spina ('Chapel of St Mary of the Thorn'), at Pisa, a well-developed example of the 'second perfect order of Italian Gothic'. This was the point at which the round shapes of 'the Romanesque arcade' were translated into 'pointed work' (Works, 12, p. 196).

The work is prominently displayed in all three photographs of the extension interior, reflecting its subject's importance as a site evocative of Ruskin's enduring relationship with Italy.

Of his early time in Pisa, Ruskin recalled days spent in the cloister of Campo Santo that would end with him 'getting upon the roof of Santa Maria della Spina, and sitting in the sunlight that transfused the warm marble of its pinnacles, till unabated brightness went down beyond the arches of the Ponte-a-Mare' (Praeterita, in Works, 35, p. 358).

Collection of the Guild of St George, Museums Sheffield

This wistful scene finds suitable conclusion in the dying cadence of the passage's last sentence, in which Ruskin recalls 'the few footsteps and voices of the twilight feel silent in the streets, and the city and her mountains stood mute as a dream, beyond the soft eddying Arno.'

The chapel acquired less happy significance when in later life Ruskin witnessed a destructive operation on its ornamental fabric:

'As I was drawing the cross carved on the spandril of the western arch of the church of Santa Maria della Spina at Pisa, in 1872, it was dashed to pieces by a mason before my eyes, and the pieces carried away, that a model might be carved from them and set up in its stead.' (Works, 34, p. 515).

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